FOR MEMBERS

Italian word of the day: ‘Discreto’

Italian word of the day discreto
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
See if you can get a decent handle on this word.

If you went out for an OK-ish restaurant meal, you wouldn’t describe it as ‘discreet’ – but in Italian, you might well say the experience was discreto.

This doesn’t mean your spaghetti knows how to keep a secret. When describing the quality of something, discreto means ‘decent’ or ‘not bad’.

 It’s a standard Italian adjective, so the ending changes to a/i/e depending on whether the noun its describing is masculine or feminine, singular or plural.

È una scrittrice discreta.
She’s a pretty good writer.

Ha preso dei voti discreti.
He got decent grades.

This use of the word to mean ‘good enough’ or ‘satisfactory’ stems from its broader definition of ‘moderate’ or ‘not excessive’.

Il prezzo mi sembra discreto.
The price seems reasonable to me.

Fa uso discreto delle bevande alcooliche.
He drinks alcohol in moderation.

Look out, though, for how the speaker is using the word – if there’s an undercurrent of irony, they might be using discreto to mean ‘plenty’ or ‘more than enough’.

Stavate viaggiando ad una discreta velocità.
You guys were going pretty fast.

Ho un discreto appetito.
I’m pretty hungry.

It’s similar to how in English we might say we have “quite an appetite” to mean we’re hungry, despite the fact that ‘quite’ typically denotes moderation.

Related to this theme of moderation, discreto can mean ‘discreet’ when applied to a person, connected to the idea that someone who is moderate knows how to contain themselves.

Puoi confidarti con lei, è una persona discreta.
You can confide in her, she’s a discreet person.

Siamo molto discreti, io e Giovanni.
We’re very discreet, Giovanni and I.

Finally (and helpfully for those who always confuse the two in English) discreto can also mean discrete; that is, something that is distinct from another thing.

Le strutture sono suddivise in quattro parti discrete.
The structures are subdivided into four separate parts.

Now you know, see if you can use this word to bump up your Italian language skills from discreto to excellente. In bocca al lupo!

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.


Member comments

Become a Member to leave a comment.Or login here.
Privacy